Twins can't overcome miscues with late rally

Twins can't overcome miscues with late rally

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a game that seemed doomed from the beginning, the Twins did just about everything wrong to cost them a win and a sweep over the Royals.

Still, the Twins managed to put together one of their best comeback efforts late in the game on Thursday to make the 9-8 ending look less painful, but the damage had already been done.

The club's performance was the complete opposite of the solid and confident wins it produced in the first two games of the series. The Twins were done in by Scott Baker's struggles, multiple fielding errors and the poor base running.

"A lot of different things happened and probably as sloppy as we've played in a long time," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't remember the last time we had a defensive ballgame as bad as this one. You've got to live with it and, like we always said, mistakes will kill you. And tonight it did."

Emblematic of the Twins' early miscues, a simple hit-and-run turned into a double play. Joe Mauer came up to bat in the third inning with Nick Punto on third and Denard Span on second. Mauer crushed a ball to deep center field, but Mitch Maier caught it on the warning track for the second out of the inning.

Punto and Span had taken off running at the crack of the bat, certain the ball was out of the park and, in an effort to warn Span to get back to second base, Punto missed his opportunity to score a run before his teammate was tagged out at the bag.

Gardenhire said Punto was too focused on what Span was doing to do what he should have been doing in the first place, running. Gardenhire said the game got ugly from that point on.

But to the runners' credit, Mauer's hit had the Royals tricked too.

"I don't get shocked very often, but I was shocked that Mitch caught that ball because I thought that ball was off the wall, too," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.

Punto's difficult night only got worse from there. In the sixth inning, the shortstop committed errors on back-to-back plays -- his first fielding mistake since July 26 of last year. It was also his first career game with more than one error.

Punto fumbled a ground ball hit by Scott Podsednik, allowing Yuniesky Betancourt to advance. On the next play, Punto let a ground ball hit by Jason Kendall pass between his legs, which allowed an unearned run to score.

Matt Tolbert also committed an error in the inning, two batters after Punto's second. Tolbert was unable to stop a ground ball hit by Alberto Callapso, loading the bases for the Royals.

The Royals scored three runs in the sixth, all unearned, to take an 8-1 lead. It was the first time the Twins committed three errors in one inning since July 26, 2003, against Cleveland.

"It was an atrocious inning," Punto said. "It cost us the game. It's tough. To lose a game like that defensively, it's hard to swallow."

The battling didn't stop there. Baker had a rough start, giving up five earned runs during five innings.

His biggest struggle came in the second inning when he gave up back-to-back home runs, quickly putting the Twins down 3-0. Maier hit a two-run shot to right which was followed just five pitches later by a blast by Wilson Betemit, again to right.

It was the second time this season the Twins have allowed back-to-back home runs, and it was also the second time the Royals have hit back-to-back homers this year. Both home runs came when Baker was ahead in the count.

"You can't allow hits in those counts, it's just not acceptable," Baker said. "Sometimes you try to do too much with those pitches, and that's not necessarily what you have to do. Just make a good pitch, not the perfect pitch, and I didn't do that tonight."

The Twins mounted a rally in the seventh inning, but their efforts fell short. They racked up five runs on six hits in the inning, bringing the game within two runs.

After Betemit's second home run made the score 9-6 in the ninth, the Twins continued their comeback.

Both Mauer and Justin Morneau drove in runs in that inning, but that would be all the Twins could muster and what could have been a wild come-from-behind finish ended in disappointment.

The Twins are hoping their luck will turn around when they start a three-game Interleague series against the Braves on Friday. For now, they are trying not to let the rough outing get to them.

"We play 162. I know we say that all the time, but it's the truth," Span said. "You're going to have games like this where everything unravels, but we're going to come back out tomorrow and try to pick it back up. We can't worry about that."

Jocelyn Syrstad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.